Beach Books

Agonizing Addiction, Wonderful Escape

The Beachcomber
By PAT JOHNSON | Jul 14, 2013
Source: barnesandnoble.com

Eric Houghton chose to put his admission picture to the Carrier Clinic for alcoholism and cocaine addiction treatment on the cover of his tell-all recovery book to underscore the physical wreck he was in 2010. It’s a pitiable photo – especially since the recovered alcoholic Houghton is so full of life and talent. This winter at the Methodist church in Manahawkin, he gave a performance of his original musical compositions dedicated to recovery. His opus consisted of three works: “Fantasy on Amazing Grace,” “Recovery Sonata for Clarinet and Piano” and “Five Anonymous Songs.”

In the program accompanying the musical, Houghton said, “A little over two and a half years ago, I was forced to make a choice: Should I live or should I die? I decided the former was a better way to go.”

Boozehound! Breaking a 30-Year Obsession begins with the end of Houghton’s drinking career, a descriptive travelogue or ‘drunk-a-logue’ of two harrowing days including a wild ride where he boozed and snorted cocaine in his car and managed to evade detection when a police officer stopped him. The amount of alcohol and drugs Houghton ingested those last few days was impressive – even to the two other alcoholics he was living with at the time, and they were “no slouches” when it came to drinking, he noted. He was also taking and abusing the tranquilizer Xanax, a drug he was able to mail order from a pharmacy in India. As Houghton’s personal, professional and financial lives were simultaneously reaching their bottom, the self-professed boozehound was poured into Carrier after a woozy car crash and a confrontation with his wife and bartender, an intervention that was more anger-fest than tough love.

But Houghton was ready, he was afraid, he knew that from where he was, there was nowhere else to go but up.

The following 300 or so pages consist of an excruciatingly detailed memoir of the seven days he spent getting dry in Carrier, interspersed with choice bits of his biography.

Houghton, who has an amazing ability to remember details and conversations, introduces us to his bunkmates – his travelers on planet sobriety – and they are a mixed bag. His favorite traveler is Mike C., who has a penchant for quoting lines of movies whenever he wants or needs to comment on a situation; mimicking Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Shining,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry.” His friend is trying to kick an addiction to Xanax, and is a slave to whatever drug is in nose spray. Houghton describes a scene where his friend is begging for a few extra squirts from the nose spray bottle at the nurse’s station:

 

“Ah, come on!” he cries. “First I can’t see, now I can’t breathe? I told you that spray bottle you gave me was defective. Please Donna, just a couple more shots?”

Donna doesn’t reply but simply gives him a “get-lost” gesture. She then turns and heads back to the rear of the office where the drugs are kept out of sight.

Mike leans over and whispers in my ear, “That bitch is on the list.”

I continue smiling, trying to consider all the people, myself included, who must be part of Mike’s ever-expanding “Hit List.”

 

Houghton’s ability to remember dialogue and develop the various characters in the rehab keeps the book moving along. He employs a successful writer’s device, moving back and forth between his personal history and what is happening in his present so we get to know Houghton intimately and understand his reactions.

There is a real sincerity and sadness in Houghton’s dawning awareness of what he has done to his family under the influence of his alcoholism. Even though insurance companies have cut back the number of days they will pay for a stay in a rehab – from 28 days to a mere week – in that slim time, Houghton does get the seriousness of his plight. Some of his fellow travelers are not as lucky; in sympathetic tones he describes those more burned then him by drug and alcohol abuse.

The book borrows extensively from “The Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, stating chapters with excerpts from the sobriety “Bible.” He describes AA meetings inside the rehab and out.

Anyone who has had a brush with alcoholism in the family (isn’t that everyone?) will benefit from the folksy wisdom alcoholics have developed to deal with early sobriety, when the danger to pick up that “first drink” is very real. We learn it’s not the third or fourth drink that will get an alcoholic drunk; it’s the first that sets up the obsession to have more. “Just don’t pick up that first drink,” Houghton learns in the meetings.

It’s good to know, after reading Boozehound!, that Houghton was able to pick up the pieces of his life: returning to his marriage and family life, his job as a music and piano teacher and his vocation as a music composer and column writer. (His “Clammer’s Diary” has been running in The Beachcomber for 30 years). Now, he adds book author to the list of accomplishments and most recently, screenwriter. “This is quite exciting,”  he wrote in an email on Monday, “Southern Regional classmate Bruce Novotny (remember he wrote Tales of an Endless Summer ?) read the book and loved it. He works in California as an editor in the TV and film industry. We signed a contract to write a screenplay of Boozehound! and have begun the long process. We hope to be finished by year’s end, and my agent, Faye Swetky, will be marketing it when ready. Very exciting – but a lot of work ahead.

“Isn’t life wonderful sober?” he asks.

Boozehound! is self-published through My Green Publisher and is available on Amazon and through local booksellers. Houghton will be reading from Boozehound! at the Island Branch of the Ocean County library on Monday, July 15 at 11 a.m. Meet an extraordinary man and hear his agonizing tale of escaping death from a treatable, but enigmatic disease.

Pat Johnson, arts editor at the SandPaper, lives in Tuckerton.

 

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